How Will India Ever Move Towards Being a Digital Economy When it Continues To Ignore it's Billions?
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The move made by Modi to demonetise 86% of the notes in circulation might be a move that was triggered with various interests in mind. The one thing that it has undoubtedly made many Indians do it use digital payments.
I was speaking the other day to one of the managers at National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) and he was telling me that the numbers of transactions have spiked many folds!
For those who do not know NPCI is a quasi-government body that creates the standards such as IMPS and UPI using which many of the online transaction networks function.
Yes digital payments and transactions are spiking to new levels.
This was quite possibly the best opportunity to transition the vast majority of Indians who are currently dependent on cash transactions for the most part to digital payments. Are we really doing what is necessary?
Let me share an incident that happened:
I had to travel to Mumbai the day after the demonetisation scheme was announced. When you land at the international airport in Mumbai for some reason they change a toll only in cash. I did not have any, so the Uber driver paid for it. We did not find a single ATM on the way which could dispense cash and hence upon reaching my destination I asked my driver if he has PayTM so I could transfer him the money. He had the app installed but did not have an account. I asked him to create an account. He looked at me uncertainly. He proceeded only to get stuck at the point where the app asked for him to put in a password. He did not wish to set a password in English, he was afraid he would forget it. PayTM does not offer the choice of any other language. So after much goading he set a password and I was able to transfer him the money.
Seems like a minor oversight; but affects Millions if not a Billion people in this country.
Arguably e-wallets have a critical role to play in this context since there are a lot of small and micro payments for which using the card (credit or debit) does not make a lot of sense. Besides there are a lot of small businesses and stores that do not possess the infrastructure necessary to (PoS Machines) to process payments using cards. In such cases it is very easy for the merchant to get up and going & start processing payments.
If this was the opportunity straight out of a dream, all of the wallets have blissfully squandered it away.
The most significant error in judgment that was made when all of the VC firms came rushing in to setup shop in India was to assume that India was going to be next China. India is nothing like China, with over a 100 languages, poor digital infrastructure and still poorer adoption of digital payment services; India was and still is nothing like China.
As of 2012, the best estimates put a population of 125 million English speakers in India. For the sake of argument let us assume that this number has grown to 200 Million today. That still leaves aside 1.07 Billion people, who do not know the language.
How many applications do you use that have a non-English version?
This was probably one time when almost every Indian has had the need to rely on digital solutions in order to make sure their lives were not hindered greatly. Under such circumstances, it is a priority to ensure that all of the solutions are able to cater to the needs to all Indians, English speaking or not.
It seems rather sad that someone like Vijay Shekhar Sharma who himself came from a Hindi medium school did not see this need. The only wallet website that at least makes an attempt is Mobikwik, which translates ONE page on the site to Hindi. All of the other wallet or payment applications continue to be exclusively English.
As English literate technology savvy Indians take advantage of technology and make things easy for themselves, a vast majority of people in this country cannot access these services because of language barriers.
I would have expected these wallet companies to translate their apps to 30 languages over the course of a week (at least on Android) and send teams of people out with missionary zeal to convert as many merchants as possible to wallet users. For the merchants everyday is a lost opportunity and hence they would have embraced and also taken the time to educate their customers of the product to make transactions possible.
But that is not how it played out. There companies continue to target an English speaking audience and make a whole host of payment processing solutions possible for English literate customers alone.
We in the "Startup" universe need to start looking at this entire nation. To start looking beyond what is "low hanging fruit" and can be targeted through Google AdWords alone. We need to start building solutions for the people of this nation, in all of their diversity and limitations.
You can build a billion dollar enterprise by making a million people pay $1000 or by making a billion people pay $1. There has been a preposterous degree of focus on the former. While the possibility of the former going from paying $1000 to $2000 is limited the possibility of $1 payment going to $10 in incredibly high.
What kind of company do you want to build?